Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 20 September 2012

South Sudan and the logic of extraction

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By Anne Bartlett

September 19, 2012 — Over recent years a recurrent theme on the lips of politicians and population alike in South Sudan, is the issue of corruption. Corruption, we are told, is like a cancer that is eating the society from the inside and the problem that must be rooted out if South Sudan is to move forward. Letters from President Salva Kiir and others encourage the dishonest individuals hand back the alleged $4 billion that has been stolen. Once this happens, we are assured that South Sudan can secure a brighter future – one that is not tarnished by poverty or stunted opportunities for its population.

On a recent trip to Juba, I was thinking about such issues while sitting in one of those “international hotels” that charge international prices. Feeling rather like a fish out of water in such a place, I sat in the courtyard and looked around at the clientele frequenting the hotel. It didn’t take a genius to realize that there were basically three groups of people who spent their time there. The first was the international crowd: aid workers, foreign officials and consultants who were in South Sudan for business and needed a place to stay which resembled the kind of accommodation one could find elsewhere in the world. The second group was there to meet with the first group. This group consisted of politicians and others interested in either conducting business, or figuring out how to handle some of the rebuilding issues facing the country. The third group was there to meet with the second group. These people were basically foreign or home grown opportunists, hangers on and petty criminals looking to see what kinds of benefits they could extract if they spent enough time around people who could afford to pay for these kinds of hotels. The only other people that one could find in these international places were foreign staff and, for the most part, foreign owners. South Sudanese people were notably absent, except the few young people who were waiting the tables because they were unable to finish their education at Juba University and other educational institutions.

Surveying this scene filled me with sadness. After 20 years of civil war and struggle on the part of the people of South Sudan, it seemed clear that the foundations of the economy were being built on a logic of extraction which implicated foreign governments, NGOs, the GoSS and private corporate interests in spending vast sums of money on overpriced basic services. It also seemed clear that this logic of extraction is far more dangerous than corruption alone, because it links money for hotels (often obtained by dubious means), to a systematic money making machine that is able to remove vast sums of money from the economy not just once, but every single day. The fact that one can struggle to find a room in a city like Juba where room rates can cost upwards of $150-$200 per night, illustrates the sheer amount of money that is being extracted from what should be spent on much needed development and infrastructure projects. It is not overstating things at all to say that every penny extracted in this way, is a penny stolen from South Sudan’s future.

Thinking about this issue I also found myself wondering why these “international” places have become so attractive. In simplistic terms one might reply by saying that that there is lighting, security, cold beer, and air-conditioning – and all of this is true. But there is a bigger question about what “international” means to local people. Does “international” signify something that South Sudanese people feel they don’t have? Is “international” merely a code word for power, money or security that is supposed to come from somewhere else? Is the “international community” a thing that is supposed to come riding over the horizon to rescue local people?

These questions become even more important when one watches the endless rounds of movement leaders and politicians parading through Washington DC looking for photo opportunities with “international” leaders. This desire to be outside of South Sudan is almost like a disease, where those in power don’t believe in themselves unless they can show that khawagas do. It is almost as if the actual landscape of politics in the USA and elsewhere doesn’t really matter, as long as there is the smiling photo with a politician – any politician - who is famous. Whether the person one is photographed with is in power, is likely to get into power, or even cares what the South Sudanese are suffering seems to be of little consequence. Instead it is all about the air travel, the photograph that proves one has reached the West and the suggestion that one is now “in” with the international crowd. The big question here is what this all means. Is this the New Sudan that Dr. John Garang envisaged where elite and foreign interests extract huge sums from the economy without helping the people and where politics has been outsourced to those who want a photo opportunity on the White House lawn?

Rather than looking outwards for solutions to crisis — for loans, for advice and for those who can rebuild South Sudan in an “international” image, maybe the time has come to look inwards. South Sudan most certainly does not need the Washington Consensus from the IMF and World Bank; neither does it need loan conditionalities and a long slow slide into debt at the hands of the Chinese. Maybe the African people who have always been innovative in solving their own problems, can develop South Sudan in their own image, if only given the chance. If oil revenues are used sensibly to kickstart the agricultural base of the country rather than being wasted on expensive hotels, there is the potential to feed not only South Sudan but also much of the region. Further, rather than talking about South Sudan’s economic integration into East Africa or the world economy, it would be more to the point to make sure that local kids have the education they need so that they have the skillset to compete for the nation in the future. This future is possible without barrels of cash too. A lot can be achieved with creativity, quiet thought and belief in what the power of “local” rather than “international” can do.

South Sudan is now at a critical juncture. The time has come to stop taking from the country and start putting back. There is no need to continue with the useless, self-serving behavior of Khartoum’s political elite that has so long dominated the landscape of Sudanese politics. Instead there is a different route to political, economic and social sustainability: one that builds, rather than extracts.

In the final analysis, South Sudan can believe in itself, or outsource that belief to others. For myself, for the people, and for the future of this young country, I sincerely hope that it is the former, rather than the latter.

Dr. Anne Bartlett is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the International Studies Graduate Program at the University of San Francisco. She may be reached at albartlett@usfca.edu



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  • 20 September 2012 08:22, by Eastern

    Dr. Anne, I like your very honest piece depicting the actual situation in South Sudan today.The country is being bled dry by the few ’well connected’ South Sudanese and soem gullible foreigners ’doing business’ in the country. Take for instance the receipts iuused to clients by the ’international hotels’ do not have Tax Identification Numbers (TIN) for tax compliance purposes. We are doomed!!

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  • 20 September 2012 12:03, by nyantung

    Professor Anne,
    You have managed to observe and speak what many either have failed to observe (perhaps because they were enjoying the perks and photo-ops) or, if they did observe it, chose to remain silent. I commend your honesty and sincere concern for South Sudan and I am happy to see you writing on South Sudan’s internal issues.
    Laura Nyantung Beny, Professor of Law

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  • 20 September 2012 17:42, by mohammed ali

    "There is no need to continue with the useless, self-serving behavior of Khartoum’s political elite that has so long dominated the landscape of Sudanese politics".The audtor general of SS reported $ 4 billions not "accounted for",by extrapolation it will be $ 10-12 in 6 years as we can’t see evidence of the $ 17 billions oil revenues on the grounds.Did this ever happened in Khartoum?

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    • 20 September 2012 18:17, by mohammed ali

      con:It seems that some people, out of "unjustifid hatred, if there is any justification for hate!" to continue the blame of Khartoum. Just like slavery,child abduction,extrajudicial killing or rape,which are rampant now in SS!Unfortunately, the worst has to come, and they know it! I don’t know whom they are going to blame,then.Sooner or later, every lie has to come to an end!

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  • 20 September 2012 18:20, by Iduol Ahang Beny

    One of the best, most accurate articles I’ve read about RSS in years. Thanks, Dr. Bartlett, and please keep on writing!

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  • 21 September 2012 00:27, by Grader

    Dear Dr Anne,
    Thank you well articulated article, I want to my PhD on the topic, can I get in touch with you?

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  • 21 September 2012 01:12, by Tutbol

    you really nail it on the head professor. That is the way our leaders have become, South sudanese are best known for their egaliterian character, put it this way; you may have even 3000 herd of cattle but you have to share a table with a 20 herd of cattle guy. But our leaders have imported the worst arab and the west cuture in its worst form to our people.

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  • 21 September 2012 10:45, by Iduol Ahang Beny

    Also, these environments and this ’logic’ is annihilating the S. Sudanese family. Besides the prospect of backdoor deals in these ’settings of extraction,’ there is rampant prostitution and alcoholism. Starting a ’business meeting’ at 9pm or later and continuing past midnight every night is more common than not, for all 3 groups. This erodes the notion of and accountability toward the "Home."

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    • 22 September 2012 05:37, by abraham

      Professor, you are absolutely right for pointing out the obvious truths. However, as South Sudanese, I feel like we are caught in an inescapable situation. We are being led by bunch of idiots that don’t either read, embarrass or feel ashamed. The enemies of South Sudan are follow; (1) NCP (2) SPLM, and (3) Foreigners including UNMISS, and most NGOs. Think about it!

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  • 22 September 2012 07:58, by George Bol

    This is an articulating article I ever read in the ST. Keeping out graduate students from leadership in the South Sudan will deprive them for some time.Pretenders are extracting and getting rich because no laws govern businesses there and almost every leader is busy building his own compound before sunset. How many cars they own? and the supply of oil just free and let alone salary! Sorry!

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  • 1 November 2012 07:39, by Steve Gibbs

    Corruption is never ending process. It can be minimized but can’t be rooted out. Greediness of human can’t refrain him from corruption.
    [url=http://www.citizenshipper.com/freight-loads.php]freight loads[/url]

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    This web deck de piscina site is really a walk-through for all of the info you wanted about this and didn’t kia rioknow who to ask. Glimpse here, and you’ll definitely discover plastic lumber it.

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